It’s been almost a year since Edward Snowden first began leaking details of the NSA’s secret programs to collect data from citizens and non-citizens. In the months that followed, many have questioned whether increased public awareness of the US’ massive surveillance apparatus, and the role tech firms play in feeding it our information, will result in any real change. Google’s military and surveillance ties are as strong as ever, and Mark Ames wrote that the media’s tendency to frame the story as an Orwellian fairy tale threatens any chances of getting real accountability from public or private power structures.
But according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual “Who Has Your Back” report, the first since Snowden’s revelations, many large tech firms do a much better job today at protecting our data than they did a year ago.
For example, in 2013, Apple scored a positive mark in only one of six privacy categories. The company did not publish transparency reports, it did not require warrants for content, nor did it tell users about government data requests. Yahoo posted similarly dismal privacy scores last year.
But in the latest report, Apple and Yahoo scored high marks across the board, as did Facebook which also improved on its lackluster 2013 privacy performance.
One of the only companies that did not show much improvement over a sorry 2013 report was Amazon. Although Amazon, like almost every other tech firm on the list, now requires a warrant for content requests, it still does not tell users about government requests, publish transparency reports, or publish law enforcement guidelines.
Again, the connective tissue between the world’s largest tech companies and the US government is perhaps stronger than ever. Google continues its aggressive landgrab for military contracts, Dropbox recently added Condoleezza Rice, one of the architects of the post-9/11 surveillance machine, to its board, and if you ask AOL founder Steve Case, these connections between the government and technology firms are only going to be stronger in the future.
Perhaps this is naive, but the hope is that by working with governments tech firms will be better able to lobby on behalf of their customers over issues like net neutrality and data privacy. Nevertheless, the reciprocal “I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine” relationships in Washington don’t necessarily bode well for the integrity of user data.
If the EFF is to be believed, and tech firms really are more transparent about the information they share with the government, at least we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]